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Fascinating facts about gorillas

Fascinating facts about gorillas

Gorillas are heavily built primates and are the largest of the great apes which share with the chimpanzees a distinction of being the human closest primate relatives. Despite the fact that chimpanzees look like with the Gorillas, gorillas can be differentiated by their broad chests and shoulders, large, human-like hands and the small eyes set into hairless faces as well as small ears located towards the back of their skull. Gorillas are considered as the most powerful and extreme primates not only due to their size and force but because of their gentle human like behavior. Gorillas are herbivorous and predominantly ground dwelling great apes that inhabit the tropical forests of equatorial Africa. Older male gorillas are called silver backs because as they age while growing, they develop grayish white hair on their shoulders and back and it applies to all male gorillas though progressing to leadership role depends on Genetics and they are the ones which decide where the groups feeds, travels and sleeps

Types of Gorillas

There are two types of Gorillas with one being the Western gorillas and the other being the Eastern gorillas with four subspecies known as;

  1. Mountain gorillas
  2. Western lowland gorillas
  3. Eastern lowland gorillas
  4. Cross River gorillas.

Mountain Gorillas

Mountain Gorillas in Bwindi
Mountain Gorillas in Bwindi

Mountain gorillas are endangered subspecies of the Eastern gorillas which were once expected to be extinct but today their number is approximately 1,063. These gorillas are found in the high altitude montane and bamboo forest and they spend quarter of their day eating mainly plants which includes leaves, shoots, roots and stems as well as eating larvae, snails, ants and rotting wood.

Mountain gorillas sleep in groups together in nests on the ground or trees they make from foliage whereas infants share their mother’s nests for safety and warmth. These can be seen from one of the following East African countries namely; Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Western Lowland Gorillas

Gorilla in Congo
Gorilla in Congo

Western lowland gorillas are subspecies of the Western gorillas and they can easily be differentiated by their slightly smaller size, their brown-grey coats, and auburn chests. They have wider skulls and smaller ears, they are exceptionally large and powerful primates with no tails or jet black skin but they have large jaw muscles and broad strong teeth. They are approximately 100,000 in number making them the most widespread and numerous of the four subspecies.

Western gorillas inhabit some of Africa’s dense and remote rainforests and swamp forests. All gorillas are vegetarians who feed on bamboo shoots, stems, and fruits however western gorillas also enjoy eating Termites and ants. They use their agile lips and hand to consume the vegetation and are capable of eating around 40 pounds of vegetation per day.

Just like other gorillas, these too build nests in which they sleep and they are made of leaves and branches both on the ground and in trees.

These western lowland gorillas are found in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Republic of Congo.

Eastern Lowland Gorillas

Juvenile Gorilla
Juvenile Gorilla

Eastern lowland gorillas are also known as Grauer’s gorillas scientifically, they are darker compared to other subspecies though the mountain gorillas are the darkest, they have a longer face and larger chests they are the largest primates in the world and the most intelligent species of primates and second most endangered species of gorillas. The number of Eastern lowland gorillas in Africa is approximately 3,600.

These gorillas enjoy eating both fruits and insects though they prefer termites and ants however they go after small rodents or lizards, they are known for traveling long distances in search for food. They also sleep in nests they build on the ground and trees. Their Eastern lowland gorillas are only found in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

 Cross River Gorillas

Cross River gorilla
Cross River gorilla

Cross river gorillas are the most critically endangered and rarest subspecies of the western gorillas. They live in the mountainous border area between Cameroon and Nigeria at the top of the Cross River hence named after the cross river. The population of these gorillas is approximately 250-300. The coats of cross river gorillas are typically brownish grey to black and they have auburn-colored chests and cone-shaped heads just like the western lowland gorillas. Cross river gorillas eat liana which is a woody vine and tree bark throughout the year as well as leaves, nuts, and berries during scarcity. Just like other gorilla species, Cross River gorillas build nests too to sleep in at night and during the rainy season, they build their nests in a tree.

General traits for all Gorilla subspecies

Just like humans, gorillas have ways of communicating depending on different situations like short barks when they are mildly frightened or curious, hoots and roars when they are intimidating their rivals whereas the male gorillas show mighty percussions by cupping their hands over their chests as a signal to others showing their fighting abilities and size. Gorillas communicate in a number of ways like the use of facial expressions, postures, and gestures and they stick their tongue as a sign of anger.

Gorillas live in family groups which are called troops with 5 to 10 members and these are ruled or led by one dominant Silverback as well as being protected by the silver back.

It’s scientifically proven that naturally, gorillas are shy just like humans however their smiles indicate different expressions which do not apply to humans and when humans make direct eye contact with them makes them feel uncomfortable and feel threatened hence they can charge aggressively at you and in case it happens you are supposed to stay calm without reacting and be submissive, stay quiet and crouch down until it losses interest in you but luckily tourist are always guided by park rangers and guides who are knowledgeable about their behaviors and know how to calm them in case of anything  Socially gorillas are gentle giants, peaceful and affectionate and they can be trained so that they get used to the human presence that’s why there is Gorilla Habituation. Several Zoologist can prove how friendly gorillas are for instance Dian Fossey who lived in volcanoes National park in Rwanda studied the behaviors of gorillas and later on wrote books about them such as Gorillas in the Mist, No one loved Gorillas more and many others.

Gorillas more often walk on four-footed and sometimes two-footed/ upright in case needed but for a short time however their distinctive walk is referred to as knuckle-walking since they use their knuckles and not palms and in order to have a stable structure that supports their weight, their wrists are made of radius that locks together. Gorillas walk upright depending on whether when chest-beating, carrying food, or an infant.

Just like other animals, gorillas also have predators and their only natural predator is the Leopard though their attacks occur on rare occasions and they target the juvenile gorillas. Unfortunately, humans are also considered dangerous animals to gorillas due to poaching, habitat degradation, mining, logging, and diseases such as Ebola which are major factors that lead to their extinction.

There is a reason why gorilla trekking is favorable and less challenging during the dry season mainly because it is hard to see gorillas due to their dislike to rain and if they are surprised by the rain downpour, they stay motionless but if they have a chance to hide for instance in nearby caves or a shelter they can take shelter as they wait for the rain to stop. Furthermore, gorillas can only cross streams only if they won’t get wet by using tree logs.

Gorillas are capable of laughing just like humans though in a different way whereby this can be observed according to their vocalization in response to wrestling, tickling, and when playing chase. Gorillas can cry too though they do not produce tears like humans, it’s only done through vocalization.

Gorillas are also adventurous, especially the young ones and they playfully enjoy hanging from vines and branches, running down the trees as well as rolling down the hill, spinning, and tickling each other.

Gorillas are not different from humans apart from their appearance. Gorillas are very respectful to each other especially when things are calmer and they have been observed touching each other’s noses as a sign of greeting themselves.

They have a great memory of recognizing their members, certain animals, as well as humans whom they can connect either to good memories or bad memories and this depends on the familiar voices and gorillas, are believed to be highly intelligent since they are capable of mastering sign language. This was proved on Koko which was a western lowland gorilla with an IQ of 75 and 95 that lived in the gorilla foundation’s preserve in the Santa Cruz Mountains.


There is so much to learn about gorillas and I hope this information will help you in case you go on a gorilla trek in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo because the experience is unique and amazing especially when you encounter one of the gorilla family.

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